Photo by Slimstyl/Shutterstock
Photo by matthio/Shutterstock
Ireland’s Skellig Michael served as Luke Skywalker’s hideout in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
It turns out the “Star Wars” galaxy isn’t terribly far, far away.
On December 20, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will bring an end to the Skywalker Saga. Luckily, Star Wars destinations like the deserts of Tatooine and the forest moon of Endor exist on Earth, and they don’t require the ship that made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. Here are 11 locations strong with the Force.
George Lucas introduced the world to Tunisia as Luke Skywalker’s planet of Tatooine in A New Hope. To get the full Skywalker experience, travel to Matmata, and stay at the Sidi el Driss Hotel, the traditional Berber troglodyte house used as the interior of the Lars Homestead, Luke’s childhood home. Stays cost less than $10 per night, and props from Lucasfilm’s return to the homestead in Attack of the Clones are still in the courtyard. Use the hotel as a rebel base as you explore the area surrounding Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru’s house and the nearby Mos Espa Slave Quarters from The Phantom Menace.
For Return of the Jedi, George Lucas looked closer to home for an alien landscape. The Forest Moon of Endor was filmed on location in California’s Redwood National and State Parks, only 300 miles up the California coast from his Skywalker Ranch on Lake Ewok. Redwood National and State Parks contain almost 39,000 acres of coast redwood, some of the tallest and oldest trees on Earth. Until the 1850s, this redwood forest was home to several Native American tribes, including the Miwok, whose name George Lucas modified to get “Ewok.” Hikers will find dozens of trails here, but for those who prefer to stay in their cockpits, consider a drive along the Avenue of Giants (California Route 254 in Humboldt Redwoods State Park) for equally majestic views.
In The Empire Strikes Back, the Rebel Alliance secludes itself on the frozen backwater world of Hoth. While the Rebels seemed to be roughing it in the wilderness, the cast and crew spent most of their time staying at the historic Finse 1222 Hotel in Finse, Norway, filming in the immediate vicinity of the hotel and on the nearby Hardangerjøkulen Glacier. Groups of dedicated fans gather annually to celebrate Hoth and this magical arctic wonderland. Climate change is tragically affecting the Hardangerjøkulen Glacier, so make Hoth a priority before it’s gone.
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In Revenge of the Sith, fans are introduced to the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk with a stunning aerial shot of Phang Nga Bay, Thailand, known for its limestone karst mountains and rock formations. Although the real iteration is devoid of CGI Wookiee trees and tree houses, it’s easy to imagine the droid army emerging from this tranquil bay while Yoda and Chewbacca strategize to save the Wookiees. Phang Nga Bay is located near Phuket City, Thailand, a great spot for relaxing on the beach after a long day of fighting the Clone Wars.
Rogue One introduced the sacred planet of Jedha with a sweeping shot of Cassian Andor’s Rebel U-Wing dancing through a dramatic desert valley. This valley is Wadi Rum, the largest wadi (Arabic for “valley”) in Jordan. While humans have lived in Wadi Rum since prehistoric times, the world at large was first introduced to its magnificence in the autobiographical book Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia. Since the 1962 movie depiction of Lawrence’s life, tourism to Wadi Rum has steadily increased. Today, travelers can soak up the desert riding atop Arabian horses or racing around on ATVs. And because of its sandstone mountains and rock formations, it’s also a paradise for rock climbers.
Each year more than 40 million commuters pass through the Imperial Base at Scarif and they don’t even know it. While the exterior shots of Scarif in Rogue One were filmed in the Maldives, the interior of the Imperial base was shot at the Canary Wharf tube station. Visual effects artists covered up features like the escalators and signs, but imaginative fans can squint and see Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor, and K-2SO hiding in plain sight from their Imperial foes.
In The Force Awakens, Rey locates legendary Jedi Master Luke Skywalker hiding out on a cloistered island on the planet Ahch-To, and that’s where she trains with him in The Last Jedi. This majestic mountain island is actually Skellig Michael, located off the Irish coast about 10 miles southwest. Similar to its fictional roots as an early home of the Jedi religion, Skellig Michael was home to a 6th-century Gaelic monastic settlement. Historians believe that no more than a dozen monks and an abbot occupied the island’s beehive-shaped hovels until the 12th or 13th centuries, after which the island became a destination for pilgrimages (like Rey’s). Skellig Michael is currently home to a population of hundreds of puffins that were so pervasive that director Rian Johnson had to create the Porgs to stand in for the puffins. The Irish government limits the number of tours and tourists that visit Skellig Michael, and the only way to access the island is through 12 boat tour operators.
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The serene blue-green waters and white-sand beaches on the planet Scarif from Rogue One are not the work of visual effects experts, they’re the real life beauty of Laamu Atoll in the Maldives. Director Gareth Edwards walked stormtroopers through the tropical waters around Gan, one of the Maldives’ largest islands. While the Maldives thrives on tourism, the archipelago country has been careful to preserve its island paradises. Laamu Atoll only opened to visitors in 2011, and there are but a handful of resorts in the area; some will book a charter flight for guests from Maldives’ largest airport in Malé.
Looking for a salty snack? Salar de Uyuni in the Potosi region of southern Bolivia is the world’s largest salt flat. Fans know it as the planet Crait introduced in The Last Jedi. Much like the fictional planet Crait, the real-life Salar de Uyuni has a surface composed entirely of salt that can sometimes extend as far as 10 yards in depth. This stunning region was created when several prehistoric lakes dried up, leaving behind giant salt deserts. Large four-wheel-drive SUVs can traverse the salt, even in the wet season when the flats take on a mirrorlike surface. Many tours depart out of the city of Uyuni and can last three to four days.
The Phantom Menace awed fans with George Lucas’s vision of an opulent universe at the height of the Republic. No location is more luxurious than Padmé Amidala’s home world of Naboo. In real life, the stunning Royal Palace of Naboo is actually the Royal Palace of Caserta just outside of Naples, Italy. It was built in the 18th century for King Charles III of Naples, who worked closely with architect Luigi Vanvitelli (one of the greats of his time) to reflect the magnificence of the Palace of Versailles and the Royal Palace of Madrid. This UNESCO World Heritage site is open six days a week and offers a wide range of tour options.
When fans first meet Rey in The Force Awakens, she is living on the desert planet of Jakku, scavenging parts from downed Star Destroyers. No place on Earth mirrors the emptiness Rey feels better than the Arabian Peninsula's real-life “Empty Quarter.” Called Rub’ al Khali by locals, the Empty Quarter is one of the world’s largest deserts, extending across Saudia Arabia, Yemen, Oman, and the UAE. For millennia, it has escaped human civilization, only playing host to a few nomadic tribes. Intrepid travelers seeking to get away from civilization can camp in this otherworldly landscape, but it’s best to go with a tour company or large caravan. Do not attempt to drive in the desert if you are not an experienced sand dune driver. More casual travelers can get a taste of Jakku while staying in one of the luxury hotels in Liwa Oasis, just west of where The Force Awakens was filmed.
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